This uplift of ancient legend into modern fantasy shouldn’t work, but does.
Feature image credit: Bloomsbury Publishing
Book reviewing has few hard and fast rules, but one is that if ever something is billed on the cover as “[pop culture phenomenon] meets [pop culture phenomenon]”, it rarely is. Literary events like Game of Thrones or Pratchett’s Discworld are unique and, while other books may contain elements of them (or be hopelessly derivative), few if any ever manage to wholly capture the vibe.
Sons Of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty delightfully turns this rule out into the street. Billed as “Game Of Thrones meets the Mahabharata and Ramayan”, the reader might expect to find trace elements of George RR Martin’s saga mixed with the long storytelling of the Vedic epics. Instead, Gourav Mohanty has given us a book (the first in a trilogy) which does exactly what it says on the cover: a mash-up of a style and a story that despite each being wonderfully strong, manage to further enhance one another. The plot and situation are taken straight from the ancient Sanskrit pages of the Mahabharata, with Krishna and Jarasandha facing off in an epic 10-year war. Mohanty has here deftly blended fact and fiction, adding to the mix of legendary characters with the real-world Alexander the Great (taking the part of the legendary Kalayavana), as the evil Jarasandha enlists the Macedonian’s aid to destroy Krishna’s city of Mathura.
This is high fantasy, sword and sorcery in the grand Tolkien tradition but in a subcontinental vein. Taking the fantasy train a station further and writing in Martin’s grimdark GOT style uplifts what could be a fairly esoteric read (as anyone who has read the Mahabharata can attest) and gives it an immediacy, a modern relevancy, and a reason for existing. Reading Sons Of Darkness feels like looking into the lives of real people, albeit those that are living in an age of supernatural heroism and villainy. Where legends can often lose sight of human motivations, one of the main drivers of the plot is the caste system, with the have-nots yearning and the haves wanting to keep them in their place. Like GOT, its characters are multi-layered and complex in their motivations.
There are a few niggles, however, but most of these can be laid at the feet of the original legends. Having two cities with very similar names at war (Mathura and Magdala) is confusing, as well as having heroes with similar names (Krishna and Korda). But Mohanty is a skilled author and remembers to give plenty of context as each chapter opens, so it’s easy to remember who’s who.
One area that could definitely do with a bit of improvement is the map at the front of the book. It’s an accepted fantasy trope to have a map of the area in which the action takes place, after all, but the point is worth making to all authors that if you are going to give us a map, make sure you mark on it all of the locations in which the action takes place! The reader may find themselves justifiably mystified after seeing a location mentioned in the text but then not being able to find it on the map. By the third occurrence, this gets annoying. Phrases like “Why even bother having a map?” may be cried in frustration, to the consternation of other public transport users.
All up, however, Sons Of Darkness is an excellent achievement: a novel that takes what could have been a dry retelling of a legend and infuses it with light and life. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by DC White
The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.
Distributed by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Released: July 2023